“Spud was diagnosed with lymphoma last August and nothing could have prepared us for this. We have always thought of her living her golden years with us and I even started preparing for that: a car that is easier for her to get into and a bed for her on the first floor, so she would not have to climb the stairs, in a hopefully remote future.” ~ Julie
Last August, 12-year-old Spuddy was diagnosed with canine lymphoma – a cancer of white blood cells called the lymphocytes. Affected dogs are typically middle-aged and older. The cancer cells invade and destroy normal tissues, most commonly the lymph nodes, and cause the nodes to swell and harden. As the disease progresses, internal organs such as the liver, spleen and bone marrow become affected.
the patient OFTEN PRESENTS WITH LUMPS OR SWELLINGS ON THE NECK, ARMPIT AND GROIN AREAS
Lymphoma is a common cancer in dogs. When Spuddy was referred to Dr Cheryl Ho, her lymph nodes were enlarged. At one stage, her right submandibular lymph node (on the neck) measured 7cm x 6cm. Other signs of lymphoma include appetite loss, weight loss and fatigue.
Biopsy and other diagnostic test (such as complete blood count, platelet count, biochemical profile, urinalysis, ultrasound) allow vets to accurately diagnose lymphoma and stage the disease to determine how far the cancer has spread. Chemotherapy is a treatment choice to shrink enlarged lymph nodes and aim for complete remission.
“Facing the ugly truth revealed by the biopsy, we decided that if there were any chance of helping her through this, we would take it. Losing her in a couple of weeks or months was something we could simply not accept as we felt that she still had so much to live for. We set a simple rule: we would do anything, as long as it wouldn’t compromise the quality of her life. With that, we decided to put her through chemotherapy. We spoke to a couple of vets and an owner who went through chemotherapy with her dog, to gather as much information as we could. And so we took this route.”
The goal of chemotherapy is to kill and slow the growth of cancer cells, produce minimal negative effects on normal cells and improve quality of life.
Most dogs tolerate chemotherapy well. Common side effects include appetite loss, decreased energy level, mild vomiting or diarrhoea over a few days. If serious side effects do occur, the medical team will review and adjust the treatment protocol.
Spuddy was started on cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine (CHOP chemotherapy protocol). She was responsive to initial treatment and the enlarged lymph nodes became smaller. However when the protocol was completed, Spud only achieved partial remission.
For dogs like Spuddy with chemotherapy resistant lymphoma, rescue protocols are available where different drugs or different combinations of drugs are given together with proactive supportive care to induce remission and maintain a good quality of life.
“Spud has had many good days and some not so good days since starting her treatment but for every extra day we get to spend with her, we are forever thankful. Spud is family, a great friend and a sweet, iconic presence in the house and even in the office. That is why we are resolved to see her through this difficult battle she has undertaken.”
Am I making the Right Decision?
If your pet has been diagnosed with cancer, work closely with your vets to decide on a treatment plan that works best for your pet and your family. When chemotherapy is not an option, whether for emotional, time or financial reasons, discuss other treatment plans which can help your pet feel better and maintain a good quality of life.